Sep 19-21, Cincinnati Reds at St. Louis


Birds Eye View Header

At this point in the season, there are only two things you need to know. (1) there are only 9 games remaining in the regular season and (2) the Cardinals are currently sitting on top of the NL Central standings with a 2 1/2 game lead over the second place Pittsburgh Pirates.  Clarity is a beautiful thing.

cardinalsFor this, the final series with their divisional rivals from Ohio, the Cardinals have three objectives.

First, and most important, lose fewer games than the Pittsburgh Pirates.  That may be something of a tall task as the Pirates are 8-2 in their last 10 games and they next face Milwaukee, where the Cardinals all but ended the Brewers playoff chances.   Here is a quick look at the remaining games for the Cards and Pirates.

Cardinals Schedule Head to Head Pirates Schedule Head to Head
Sep 19-21 Cincinnati (71-82) 10-6 Sep 19-21 Milwaukee (97-74) 5-11
Sep 22-24 at Cubs (68-85) 9-7 Sep 22-25 at Atlanta(97-74) 1-2
Sep 26-28 at Arizona (62-91) 3-0 Sep 26-28 at Cincinnati (71-82) 6-10

Don’t take much comfort in the Pirates losing record against their remaining opponents any more than you should already be proclaiming the Cardinals as NL Central champs.  There is a lot of baseball yet to be played.

The second mission may prove more difficult.   Of the three division leaders in the National League, the Cardinals have the worst road record (36-39).  OK, let’s play that more optimistically – they have the best home record (49-29).   That would seem to suggest they would benefit the most from having home field advantage.   Let’s take a quick look at the home field standings of the teams most likely playing in October.

Team Record Magic Home Number
Washington  88-64  -
LA Dodgers  87-66  9
St. Louis  85-68  7
San Francisco  84-68  7
Pittsburgh  82-70  5

Winning home field throughout the National League playoffs might be an unrealistic goal at this point, but securing that against the first round opponent may be within reach.  Should the Cardinals get the Dodgers in the divisional series, as it looks right now, forcing two Clayton Kershaw starts in St. Louis might be the difference in a series that on paper is too close to call.

The final thing to be settled over these remaining nine games is who will be on the post-season roster and in what capacity.  The outfield appears to be set with Matt Holliday, Jon Jay, Peter Bourjos, Oscar Taveras and Randal Grichuk in the strangest platoon you could imagine.  Catching also seems a no-brainer with AJ Pierszynski  in the backup role.  The last roster moves prior to the September callups lock in Pete Kozma in the final spot.  The two question marks are Tony Cruz and Xavier Scruggs.  At this point, it doesn’t appear that either will make the club, leaving the team with a weakened bench and lack of first base depth.  Though he scored the winning run in last night’s thrilling extra inning game, Matt Adams has been struggling at the plate lately.  Both Cruz and Scruggs have 9 games left to change some minds and kick somebody else off the roster.

The pitching situation is about as clear as water from the Mississippi River.  Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller have pitched well enough recently to earn not only a spot, but one where you expect a win each time out.  Marco Gonzales has also looked impressive and should get some consideration for post-season action, in some capacity.  That leaves John Lackey and Michael Wacha battling for the final  spot in the rotation.   The Cardinals gave up a lot of talent to acquire Lackey, and for one reason – pitching in October.  He has a big game reputation but has yet to put that on display in St. Louis.  Michael Wacha has perhaps a bigger reputation considering what he did in post-season last year.  But he is still in a rehab situation and hasn’t looked sharp in any of his recent starts.   Each will get a start in this series with the Reds.

The best case scenario for the Cardinals is that both step up with Lackey in the rotation and Wacha in the bullpen.  If either pitcher steps up in these final starts, it will be a huge lift to the Cardinals for October.  If both do, the Cardinals could go deep into the playoffs.

The bullpen is an embarrassment of riches in comparison to the rotation.  Trevor Rosenthal, Pat Neshek, Carlos Martinez, Seth Maness, Randy Choate are all locked in (Choate due to his contract situation, the others for recent performance).  With options available on the remaining relievers, Mike Matheny can choose between Tyler Lyons, Marco Gonzales, Kevin Siegrist and Sam Freeman to fill out his bullpen.

reds-logoFor the Cincinnati Reds, injuries and a second half collapse has turned them into the role of spoiler.  They should not be taken lightly over this three game series.  While they will not be playing baseball in October, a few of their players might take great pleasure in extending that same courtesy to the Cardinals.   These three games in St. Louis will complete a nine game road trip for the Reds where they lost 2 of 3 to the Brewers and were swept by the Cubs.   The Cardinals have won the last 11 3-game home series against the Reds.

Probable Pitchers

Friday, September 19 – 7:15 pm CDT

John Lackey (13-9, 3.97) vs David Holmberg (1-1, 6.00)

For John Lackey, this is simple – pitch like they guy the Cardinals thought they were acquiring at the trade deadline.  Don’t get thrown out by arguing balls and strikes with the umpire and channel all of that emotion into seven or more strong innings.  With the early ejection in his last start, he should be well rested.   A 13 inning game last night might put a strain on the bullpen, even with expanded roster.  Lackey needs to go deep and pitch convincingly.

For David Holmberg, just standing on the mound may be enough.  He is a soft tossing lefty and that is the Cardinals kryponite.  He made an emergency long relief appearance against the Cardinals  two weeks ago when starter Dylan Axelrod had to leave with an injury in the first inning.   He threw 5 2/3 scorless innings, keeping the Cardinals bats off balance.  He followed that by a six inning win against the Brewers.  Maybe with some preparation and seeing him the second time, the Cardinals will do better against him than they did the last time.  They can’t do worse.

TV: Fox Sports Midwest, Fox Sports Ohio

Radio: KMOX (1120), WLW (700)

Saturday, September 20 – 6:10 pm CDT

Michael Wacha (5-6, 3.14) vs Mike Leake (11-12. 3.65)

Michael Wacha has two more starts to earn some sort of role in the Cardinals post-season.   With Shelby Miller looking sharp lately and a good outing from John Lackey, the urgency to throw Wacha into October could die down a bit, but he remains an important insurance policy.  When on, he has shown to be a force on the mound.  There should be no pitch limit this time out – it will be his game to win or lose on his own.

Mike Leake is 4-5 with a 4.73 ERA against the Cardinals in his career.   The Cardinals have historically hit him well, but he silenced those same bats in his last start.  Which Mike Leake will show up ?  And which Cardinals offense ?

20050430-8304 Kyle scratching his head

TV: Fox Sports One

Radio: KMOX (1120), WLW(700)

Sunday, September 21 – 7:07 pm CDT

Lance Lynn (15-9, 2.68) vs Alfredo Simon (14-10, 3.35)

In any other year, fans would be dreading a Lance Lynn start this late in the season.  But 2014 has proven to be either a breakout season for the big right hander, or an outlier for those that don’t yet have confidence in him.   Lance Lynn is currently 5th in the National League in ERA (2.68), just ahead of Zack Greinke’s 2.75.  Let that sink in for a few minutes.   He may even finish the season in the top 10 for Cy Young voting.   He will not hit 200 innings this year, but will end up very close.   The easiest job in baseball right now might be his agent.

Alfredo Simon, the 33 year old right hander, was thrown into the rotation due to the Mat Latos injury and pitched well in the first half.  Since going 4-0 in June, Simon has been under .500 and his ERA has taken nearly a 2 run a game hit.   The 185 innings he has thrown so far are the most of his professional career and may be taking its toll.   His numbers suggest he is best used out of the bullpen, but was just not an option for the Walt Jocketty and the Reds this season.

TV: ESPN (National)

Radio: KMOX (1120), WLW(700)

 

This series preview has been written by Bob Netherton, from the mostly historical blog On the Outside Corner,  You can also find Bob on Twitter during game time at @CardinalTales.

We hope that you have been enjoying these Cardinals series previews.  If you are not already receiving these by email, please see the Bird’s Eye View Registration.

Posted in 2014 Season, Bird's Eye View | Leave a comment

UCB Progressive Game Blog: Los Angeles at St. Louis, July 19, 2014


Each year, members of the United Cardinal Bloggers get together and publish a progressive game blog.   For this season, it is a Saturday afternoon meeting between the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals in what could be a preview of a playoff series in October.   Before thinking too much about that, let’s get through the game this afternoon.

We pick up the action from Doug at Baseball Geek in Galveston as the game moves into the eighth inning.   The Cardinals are holding on to a 4-1 lead with all of their runs coming in the first inning.

Joe Kelly gave the Cardinals all they could ask for in his second start since coming off the disabled list.   For seven innings, he kept the Dodgers in check, allowing just one run back in the third inning.   For Kelly, this would be the seventh time in his career in which he worked into the seventh inning, but only the second where he would finish it.   The other time was a 6-4 loss in Milwaukee last September.   All he can do now is watch as hard throwing left hander, Sam Freeman (1-0, 1.42 ERA) , takes over in the eighth.   Allen Craig, who pinch hit for Oscar Taveras in the seventh inning, stays in the game and will play left field.   Jon Jay moves from left to right field.

Freeman, who just turned 27 a few weeks ago, has been something of an enigma over his six  professional seasons.   Freeman has always pitched well in the minor leagues, striking out nearly a batter an inning.   He was exceptional last year, posting a 7-2 record for Memphis, all in relief.   His ERA over almost 70 innings was 2.97, which is a good number for the offensively friendly Pacific Coast League.   While he has had great success in the minors, that has not always been the case in the majors.   If there is a weakness in Freeman’s game, it is control.  He has made a noticeable improvement in that this season as you can see in his strikeout/walk rate, finally sneaking above the benchmark rate of 2:1 (2.25:1).

That wildness would get to Freeman this afternoon.  He wasn’t missing by much, but seemed to have a hard time finding home plate umpire, Ron Kulpa’s, strike zone.  In defense of Freeman, it took both Joe Kelly and Zack Greinke a few innings to find it as well.  Freeman had just three batters in which to find it.

The first man Freeman would face is Dodgers third baseman, Justin Turner.  Turner came into the game as part of a double switch with reliever Paul Maholm, who would be batting in Juan Uribe’s spot in the order.   After getting ahead of Turner, a 1-2 count, Freeman misses on three straight pitches, yielding a leadoff walk.

That turns the dangerous Dodgers batting order over and brings up leadoff hitter, Dee Gordon.   Gordon was 2-3 with a stolen base and run scored in his previous three plate appearances.  Freeman needs to be careful here.   As with the previous batter, Gordon works the count full.   He slaps a high inside fastball into right center field.   A good play by Jon Jay cuts off the ball, keeping Turner from scoring.   Gordon ends up with a double.

That brings the tying run to the plate in Carl Crawford.   Crawford is 0-3 so far with a double play and strikeout.   On a 2-2 pitch, Crawford hits a fly ball to medium left center field.    It is deep enough to score Turner, but a good  throw by Peter Bourjos holds Gordon at second.   The Cardinals lead is now 4-2.

With a pair of right handed hitters coming up, Mike Matheny makes another pitching change, bringing in the right-hander, Pat Neshek (4-0, 0.69 ERA) .  This will be Neshek’s 45th appearance, leading all Cardinals pitchers.   If Neshek works out of this jam, Trevor Rosenthal will also make his 45th appearance in the ninth.   But that is a big if at this point in the game.

Matt Kemp will pinch hit for Yasiel Puig.  Puig was hit in the hand by a Joe Kelly pitch back in the third inning.   While it did not prevent him from playing in the field, a weak pop up in his last at bat suggests that his hitting may be a bit off as a result.   With the game on the line, Don Mattingly opts for Matt Kemp.

Neshek works Matt Kemp on both sides of the plate.  Kemp fouls off a couple of pretty good 1-2 pitches.   On a 2-2 pitch, Neshek floats an 82 mph slider over the plate that Matt Kemp swung through.   For most other pitchers, that one would have tied the game.  With Neshek’s deceptive delivery, it was just another frustrating strikeout for a right handed hitter.

Hanley Ramirez would provide much less drama in his at bat as he took a lot of big swings and came up empty.   Neshek works out of trouble and the Cardinals will take a 4-2 lead into the bottom of the inning.

The Cardinals go quickly in their half of the eighth inning.  With one out, Jon Jay lays down a perfect bunt for single.   Unfortuantely, pinch hitter, Tony Cruz, grounds into a double play.

After 8 innings, the Cardinals lead 4-2.    Into the ninth inning we go, and for that, I turn you over to Daniel Shoptaw at the Cards Conclave.

 

 

 

Posted in 2014 Season, United Cardinals Bloggers | 2 Comments

The Oscar Taveras Non-decision


In last night’s Memphis Redbirds thrilling win over the Tacoma Rainiers, Matt Adams went 1-4, with a double and two RBIs.  While that is not exactly raking, it does have to be taken in the context of the duration of a minor league rehab assignment.  One that looks like it will be coming to an end today.   The implication is that a roster move will need to be made to make room for the Cardinals big first baseman, leading some to speculate that it might be Oscar Taveras.

Not so fast.

The lack of offensive production by Peter Bourjos (.280 OBP) compared to Jon Jay (.357 OBP) may have put center field in play once again, suggesting that it might be Randal Grichuk that stays in St. Louis over Oscar Taveras.  Whether it is the way he has been used to date or that this is just what to expect offensively from Bourjos, a .280 OBP is not enough when the rest of the team is under performing as it has.   That said, if center field was really in play, Shane Robinson (.343 / .410 / .410, 4 SB) would be sharing the ride with Matt Adams and both Taveras and Grichuk would be returning to Memphis.

In a recent radio interview on KMOX, Cardinals General Manager, Jon Mozeliak, made the comment that constantly bouncing a young player from the majors to the minors can put them at developmental risk, and that you can lose some of them in the process.   In nearly the same breath, he was praising Oscar Taveras for his at-bats thus far and adding that when they decided to call him up, they would give him a long evaluation to see where he was.   That doesn’t sound like he was just a temporary fill in for an injured player.

So, about that center field thing.   Don’t be too surprised if you see Taveras get some playing time there in the coming days.   He has played center field in the minors (228 games), and while not dazzling, his athletic ability and strong arm can compensate for his shortcomings.  Not enough to be a Peter Bourjos or Shane Robinson, but enough to give him the playing time edge over Jon Jay, should Mike Matheny continue to play the platoon game with Peter Bourjos.   Perhaps more significant, the offensive upside of Taveras, who doesn’t look like a rookie at the plate, over Grichuk and Jay far exceeds their defensive differences.   That is not to suggest that Taveras should be the every day center fielder, but an occasional platoon there to get his bat in the lineup should be enough to keep him in St. Louis instead of Memphis.

So how would this really work ?

Since joing the Cardinals in 2009, the now 34 year old Matt Holliday has played a lot.   Take away what should have been a pair of trips to the disabled list in 2011, he has been out there nearly every game.   While he has a track record of slow starts, getting red hot in the summer, Holliday’s numbers show a player in something of a decline.  Nothing to punch the panic alarm over, but it is there nonetheless.  As we have seen lately with Yadier Molina, an occasional day off might be prudent approach going forward with Matt Holliday.   Just taking one day off per week (27) would still give Matt Holliday 130 games a year, which is not far off his career average anyway.  It would also add some much needed right handed power off the bench for the times where Taveras gets the start in left field.

The same largely applies to Allen Craig in right field.   The 2013 All Star first baseman is playing in right only because of the Taveras injury last May.  Had Taveras shown up in spring training as confident on his ankle as he is now, he would have made the trip north with the big club to start the season.  Instead, we have Allen Craig playing in right field with Matt Adams at first base.  This is not an optimal situation for the Cardinals, but it is how the roster is constructed and there are only so many ways to move the pieces around.

One way is to set up something of a first base platoon, alternating Craig and Adams.   This might be hard to accept, given Adams early season hitting, but Allen Craig is finally starting to come around.  Since May 1, Craig is hitting .269, which is not great.  His 22 RBIs over that period is.  What’s more, projected out to a full season, that looks like 100 RBIs, which is not that far off the RBI machine that we have seen in the past.  A lot of Craig’s production is due to Matt Carpenter and Kolten Wong getting on base, and perhaps Adams would have had the same results had they done that earlier in the season.   Instead of over analyzing the “what if”, the takeaway here is that Allen Craig is back to his RBI producing form, and the batting average is heading in the right direction.   An added benefit of a Craig/Adams platoon is that the bench gets a significant upgrade without requiring that John Mozeliak trade away one of his prospects.

For talking purposes, let’s say that the Adams/Craig platoon opens up 3 spots in right field per week, added to the one in left from Matt Holliday – that’s 4 games per week we’ve found for young Mr. Taveras.   Throw in 2 games in center field, not ideal, but won’t exactly kick off the decline of Western Civilization either, and we have found our playing time for one of the most exciting bats in the Cardinals system.

Whether Mike Matheny will embrace this kind of idea remains to be seen.  He does favor his players, with a special affinity for Jon Jay, which is understandable given that Jay is one of only two Cardinals with a .300 batting average (Matt Adams the other).   Jay has looked better at the plate lately, and he seems to be running the bases much faster than we’ve seen him in the past, but that is just not enough to take playing time away from Oscar Taveras.

The proper roster move tomorrow, when Matt Adams is activated, is to send Randal Grichuk back to Memphis to work on his hitting.   He has shown some ability, suggesting that he could be a future corner outfielder with St. Louis, or some other organization.   Right now, he is over matched at the plate, which is completely expected from a 22 year old with less than 200 plate appearances at the AAA level.  Allen Craig had nearly 1,000 for comparison.  Let the young man finish his development program and become the player that we have seen in brief moments.

Perhaps the solution to the Cardinals offensive problems is right there in front of Mike Matheny as he fills out his lineup card.  4 men, (Holliday, Adams, Craig, Taveras) and 4 positions (LF, RF, 1B, power off the bench).  Craig and Taveras are he two that need to be out there every day, rotating positions if required.   No need for a trade, just a little bit of common sense when putting pen to paper each day.

Posted in 2012 Season, 2014 Season | 3 Comments

June 4-5 – St. Louis at Kansas City


Birds Eye View Header

The Cardinals struggles through the month of May have continued into June as the I-70 series heads west to complete an abbreviated home and away series at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.

royals logoThe Royals (28-30, 5 games out) can improve to .500 for the first time since May 24 with a sweep of the Cardinals in the final two games.  Picked my some analysts to reach the playoffs for the first time since defeating the Cardinals in 1985, the Royals have hung around the .500 mark all season, from a high of 2 games over to a recent low of 4 games under.  While the Royals record is certainly trending in the right direction, a lack of offense has prompted them to rearrange their on-field staff, with former Cubs manager, Dale Sveum taking over as the hitting coach, the Royals fifth in three seasons.   The Royals are currently 12th in averate (.254), 21st in runs scored (227) and dead last in home runs (26).  The Cardinals are right there with them at 15th in average (.252), 23rd in runs scored (225) and next to last in home runs (32).  Could that mean that John Mabry is on the hot seat in St. Louis ?

At 5 games out of first place, the Royals, a 10.5% chance to make the playoffs, are in something of a predicament heading into the trade season.  They are close enough that a good week could change those odds significantly.  A two game sweep of the Cardinals in St. Louis could well be the start of that week.  The month of June will tell whether they are sellers or buyers at the trade deadline.  James Shields, a free agent at the end of this season, has been linked to the Toronto Blue Jays in possible trade rumors.

cardinalsFor the Cardinals (30-29, 5 games behind), all that we can say about April May  is that they survived it. Though continuing to struggle around the .500 mark, the Cardinals still carry a 55% chance to make the playoffs, something that fans watching the last few games may scoff at.

The early season stress placed upon the young Cardinals bullpen is beginning to show up in the box score as the Cardinals have started leaking runs in the late innings.  While Trevor Rosenthal is starting to regain his form from 2013, Carlos Martinez is looking more and more lost with each outing.  The lone bright spots in the bullpen are off season acquisition, Pat Neshek and the recently called up Sam Freeman, though the “small sample size” warning should be applied in Freeman’s case.

The sputtering Cardinals offense showed some signs of life in the second game of the series, prompting some short lived enthusiasm.  The bullpen failed to hold a slim late inning lead and the Royals took both games at Busch Stadium.   If there is anything positive to take into the final two games of this series, it will be that the Royals will have to face the top of the Cardinals rotation in Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha.  Though he stumbled in his last outing, Wainwright is on a Cy Young type of pace this season.

Probable Pitchers

Wednesday, June 4 – 7:10pm CDT

Adam Wainwright (8-3, 2.32) vs Jason Vargas (5-2, 3.39)

Adam Wainwright will try to become the National League’s first 9 game winner as the takes the mound for the Cardinals in the short series opener.  Wainwright is 4-1 with a 3.21 ERA and a save in 6 starts and 3 career relief appearances against the Royals.

His opponent will be Jason Vargas, a veteran left hander, who has pitched well for the Royals.   He does throw inside which could prove most interesting for a young hitter like Oscar Taveras.  While Kauffman is a spacious ballpark, a mistake that isn’t far enough inside to Taveras and not even the K will be able to contain that kind of blast.

Vargas is something of a mystery to most of the Cardinals roster.  Mark Ellis has hit him well in the past, so don’t be surprised if he gets the start over Kolten Wong, in spite of Wong’s first career home run last night.

TV: Fox Sports Midwest, Fox Sports Kansas City

Radio: KMOX (1120), KCSP (610)

Thursday, June 5 – 7:10 pm CDT

Michael Wacha (4-3, 2.45) vs Yordano Ventura (2-5, 3.45)

Michael Wacha continues to be the unfortunate victim of lack of run support.  And bad weather.  There is a chance of rain for this game – of course there is.   If there was any question about Michael Wacha, his six shutout innings against the Giants on May 31 should put those to an end.   Perhaps it was just a bout of dead arm, but his strikeout rates were declining and his walk rate increasing – not a good sign.  But he was as good as we’ve seen in his last start.  A relatively low pitch count due to a rain delay may play in Wacha’s advantage in the series finale.

The Royals have opted to go a different direction than the Cardinals in the case of their former No. 2 prospect, Yordano Ventura.  The 23 year old right hander has an electric arm with a huge fastball, good curve and deceptive off speed pitches.  That pitch assortment has future closer written all over it, but the Royals are keeping him in the rotation for now.  Many Cardinals fans have been pleading for a similar treatment for Carlos Martinez in St. Louis.  Ventura had to leave the his last start with elbow soreness after just 3 innings, prompting the Royals to skip him the last time through the rotation.  He will make the start in the finale of this four game series on 9 days rest, and a big question mark.

TV: Fox Sports Midwest, Fox Sports Kansas City

Radio: KMOX (1120), KCSP (610)

Injury Update – Kansas City

Luke Hochevar (RHP) is out for the season, recovering from Tommy John surgery in March.

Danny Valencia (3B) was placed on the 15 day disabled list on June 1 with a sprained muscle in his left hand.

Bruce Chen (LHP) is on the 15 day disabled list with a bulging disc.  He has started a rehab program with the Royals AA Affiliate in Northwest Arkansas.

Injury Update – St. Louis

Matt Adams (1B) was placed on the 15 day disabled list on may 29 with left calf tightness.  Oscar Taveras was called up to take Adams place on the active roster.  The Adams injury is not presumed to be serious and he should come back on or around the 15 days required.

Keith Butler (RHP) is out for the season, recovering from Tommy John surgery.  Butler told fans via Twitter that his surgery went well and he is optimistic for a full recovery.

Joe Kelly (RHP) continues to remain on the disabled list with a hamstring injury.  He has started throwing from flat ground, but no timetable for his return as been set.

Tyler Lyons (LHP) is on the 15 day disabled list with a shoulder strain.  He has started throwing again, but there is no timetable for a possible return to the Cardinals.

Kevin Siegrist (LHP) has begun throwing and may return to the Cardinals some time in June.

 

This series preview has been written by Bob Netherton, from the mostly historical blog On the Outside Corner,  You can also find Bob on Twitter during game time at @CardinalTales.

We hope that you have been enjoying these Cardinals series previews.  If you are not already receiving these by email, please see the Bird’s Eye View Registration.

Posted in 2014 Season, Bird's Eye View | Leave a comment

May 2-4, St. Louis at Chicago Cubs


Birds Eye View Header

Coming off a difficult first month of the season where they played 21 of 29 games against division rivals, the Cardinals hope that May will bring a less demanding schedule. Over the next  four and a half weeks, they will play most of the games at home and against teams not in their division.   Two long home stands might be just what the Cardinals need to close the gap with the division leading Milwaukee Brewers.   They have to go through Chicago and Pittsburgh first.

chicago-cubs-wrigley-field-100th-anniversary-logoThe Cubs (9-17, 9 1/2 games out) had a similar schedule to start the 2014 season, playing most of their games against teams in the NL Central, including 3 against the Cardinals.  At 9-17, they share the cellar of the division with the Pittsburgh Pirates, 9 1/2 games out of first place.  Like the Cardinals, the Cubs woes seem to be consistent offensive production from their regular position players.   Entering this series, only 4 regulars have a batting average over .250 (the Cardinals have just 5).

Where the two teams differ is in pitching.  While the Cubs have a good 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation with Jeff Samardzija and veteran Jason Hammel, they would be a 3rd and 4th starter in the Cardinals rotation.   The bottom three, including former Cardinal Edwin Jackson, have been inconsistent.  Their bullpen has also been roughed up, especially veteran Jose Veres, who has last his job as closer after his second blown save, ironically in St. Louis.   Hector Rondon has been sensational as his replacement and should be expected to protect a late inning lead, if given the opportunity.

cardinalsFor the Cardinals (15-14, 5 games behind), all that we can say about April is that they survived it.  With a favorable schedule ahead, including warmer weather, there is a lot of reason to be optimistic about next few weeks.

While the bullpen has had its shares of early season troubles, the starting rotation has been very good, especially at the top with Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha.  Both pitchers could easily have another win already, perhaps more if the Cardinals offense could muster up a few key hits.

Offense has been the Cardinals Achilles Heel so far in the 2014 season.  It is easy to criticize roster construction, but the problem truly lies in the starting 8 position players.   Matt Adams and Yadier Molina have been carrying the team through the first five weeks of the season, with Matt Holliday getting some big hits in key moments, but not a lot elsewhere.   Fortunately,  two of the three Matt’s (Carpenter and Holliday) are starting to hit, and Allen Craig has finally broken through the Mendoza line, now hitting .220.   Jon Jay has been a very pleasant surprise, hitting near his career average and driving in 10 runs.  Jay has turned off season acquision, Peter Bourjos, into a bench player, where he has a history of struggling.  Jhonny Peralta, Mark Ellis, Peter Bourjos and Daniel Descalso all continue to struggle at the plate, and all but Bourjos offer weaker defense than the alternatives, which is a bad combination for the Cardinals.   That prompted a roster move before the last series, sending Kolten Wong and Shane Robinson down to Memphis to join Pete Kozma who had been optioned earlier.  In their place, the Cardinals called up Randal Grichuk and Greg Garcia.   Mike Matheny continues to juggle his lineup, hoping to find a combination of hitters that can generate some runs.

The bullpen has been something of a Jekyll and Hyde so far.  Carlos Martinez, Trevor Rosenthal, Randy Choate and Kevin Siegrist have been very good, though Siegrist has been used sparingly.  Though Mike Matheny has given public words of support for Seth Maness, he has struggled to find his 2013 self and may be one or two rough outings away from a road trip south on I-55.  Off season acquisition, Pat Neshek, has been inconsistent, but largely effective.  Cardinals GM, John Mozeliak, has been rolling in and out young arms from Memphis to fill out the remaining bullpen spots.  Eric Fornataro has been good in his first few outings.   A combination of Sam Freeman, Jose Almarante, Jorge Rondon, Keith Butler and David Aardsma await their opportunity in Memphis.

Probable Pitchers

Friday, May 2 – 1:20PM CDT

Adam Wainwright (5-1, 1.20) vs Travis Wood (1-3, 3.52)

With the off day for travel, Cardinals manager, Mike Matheny, has opted to skip Tyler Lyons for the series opener.  In his place, Adam Wainwright will get the start on regular rest.   He carries a 25 inning scoreless streak into the game, which probably played a big part in Matheny’s decision.   Wainwright has faced the Cubs once this season, at home, and won that game despite giving up 4 runs over 7 innings (2/3 of his total runs allowed in 2014).

Travis Wood has been good in the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field this season, allowing one run in each of his two starts.  Since the Cardinals have trouble facing lefties, we should expect another solid outing, and a close game.   In his career, Wood is 3-5 against the Cardinals and carries a lofty 5.16 ERA.

TV: Fox Sports Midwest, CSN and Nationally on the MLB Network

Radio: KMOX (St. Louis), WGN (Chicago)

Saturday, September 7 – 12:05 pm CDT

Michael Wacha (2-2, 2.48) vs Jake Arrieta (no record)

Michael Wacha has added a breaking pitch to his repertoire for this season.   If he can learn to throw it as effectively as his fastball and change up, he could develop into an elite starter in the National League.   His record does not indicate how well he has pitched.  Unlike Lance Lynn, Wacha seems to be the guy in the rotation that just doesn’t get any run support, so has to throw a shutout to win.   He deserves a better fate than he has been receiving, and should benefit the most as the Cardinals bats start heating up.

Jake Arrieta will get his first start of the 2014 season.   He came out of spring training suffering from shoulder soreness and was placed on the disabled list.   He has one career start against the Cardinals, an impressive win where he threw 7 shutout innings.

TV: Fox Sports Midwest,  CSN and nationally on Fox Sports 1

Radio: KMOX (St. Louis), WGN (Chicago)

Sunday, September 8 – 7:05pm CDT

Lance Lynn (4-1, 3.60) vs Jason Hammell (4-1, 2.08)

Lance Lynn continues to pitch just well enough to win, given some run support, often times ridiculously generous support.    That might be a tough task against one of the Cubs better free agent signings, Jason Hammell.  Hammel is throwing no hitter stuff so far this season and he is compounding that by not giving up a lot of walks.  An inconsistent Cardinals offense plus Lynn’s tendency to give up a big inning tilts the series finale in the Cubs favor.

This will be the first of three appearances for the Cardinals this month on ESPN’s national broadcast.

TV: ESPN

Radio: KMOX, WGN

Injury Update

The Cardinals have shared some encouraging news as both Jaime Garcia and Jason Motte will begin rehab assignments with the Springfield Cardinals this weekend.  Garcia will get the start for Springfield on Sunday.

 

This series preview has been written by Bob Netherton, from the mostly historical blog On the Outside Corner,  You can also find Bob on Twitter during game time at @CardinalTales.

We hope that you have been enjoying these Cardinals series previews.  If you are not already receiving these by email, please see the Bird’s Eye View Registration.

Posted in 2014 Season, Bird's Eye View | Leave a comment

2013 Cardinals Bloggers Awards Ballot


The November United Cardinal Bloggers project is one of my favorites as we get to look back at the highs and lows of the previous season, and more importantly, recognize some of the great contributors in the group.   With great pleasure, here is my ballot for 2013.

1) Cardinal Position Player of the Year: Yadier Molina

Molina justified his contract extension by nearly matching his career season in 2012 while nursing a group of young pitchers all the way to the World Series.  If we had to post our ballots in early September, I might have gone with Allen Craig.   But when all of the dust finally settled on the 2013 season, Yadier Molina was the Cardinals most valuable player and probably should have won the award for the National League (no disrespect to Andrew McCutchen).

2) Cardinal Pitcher of the Year: Trevor Rosenthal

Adam Wainwright was every bit the ace of the staff that we expected him to be, and he will likely win the award.  But Trevor Rosenthal gave us something truly special this season, as he transformed himself from curious hard throwing setup guy into a dominating closer that we have not seen since Todd Worrell wore the jersey.   He was a lot of fun to watch in 2013 and I can’t wait to see what role he plays in 2014.

3) Game of the Year
May 10 vs. Colorado (Miller’s almost-perfecto)
May 11 vs. Colorado (Wainwright’s no-hitter into 8th)

How can you possibly separate these two games ?   If I had to pick just one, it would be Wainwright’s near no-hitter as he appeared to be on cruise control for most of the game.   It was one of the most dominating games of his career, and I don’t think it will be the last time he flirts with a no-hitter.

4) Surprise Player of the Year: Kevin Siegrist

I totally get the Matt Carpenter votes in this category, but really ?  OK, maybe all those doubles were a bit unexpected, but wasn’t pretty much everything else he did right on the line with what he had seen him do in the minors and previous spring trainings ?

Siegrist was the Trevor Rosenthal of last season, seemingly coming out of nowhere to dominate the league with high velocity, exceptional control and a composure that is rare in such a young player.  He was brilliant as a starter, but the extra velocity from moving to the pen put him on a fast track, and boy, did he deliver (pun totally intended).

5) Disappointing Player of the Year: David Freese

Fernando Salas had some injury trouble and Pete Kozma was exactly the player we should have expected, so that leaves us with David Freese.   An injury in spring training was probably a big factor in his disappointing year at the plate, which is unfortunate.  It has also become something of a regular pattern.   I wish him the best with the Angels and will fondly remember his heroics while in St. Louis.

6) Rookie of the Year:  Shelby Miller

Until running out of gas in the second half of the season, Shelby Miller was one of the best pitchers in the National League, rookie or not.   A 20 win season is right around the corner for the young right hander and I just hope he will be in the Cardinals rotation when it happens.

7) Acquisition of the Year: Peter Bourjos.   Too soon ????   OK, Randy Choate

Does that need an explanation ?   We might look back at this next year and change it to John Axford, but for now, the veteran lefty did exactly what we expected him to do.   Looking forward to seeing him again next year.

8) Most Anticipated Cardinal: Lee Stoppleman

I’m glad to see Stoppleman on the actual list as I would have written him in had he not been there.  Stoppleman was just sensational in the closer role for Springfield and in a very brief time in Memphis, showed he could take on AAA hitters.   Bud Selig might have to intervene should the Cardinals have a bullpen with Kevin Siegrist and Lee Stoppleman – gives me goosebumps to think about that.

For those of you that have not seen Stopplman, he will remind you a lot of Siegrist.   His delivery is a bit more deceptive which makes his 93mph fastball look more like Siegrist’s 97.   He has great control and can work both corners of the plate.   If he can avoid the Eric Fornataro troubles next year, we could see him in St. Louis before the 2014 season comes to an end.
9) Best Individual Cardinal Blog: Retrosimba

I adore Cardinals history and nobody does it better than Mark Tomasik.   I’ve said this many times, had I come across Mark’s writing before I started my own blog, I never would have started it.   As I am preparing to shut mine down, I know that Cardinals history will continue to be taught by one of the best.

10) Best Team Cardinal Blog: Pitchers Hit Eighth

Even though they are now doing it over at Cardinals Conclave, Nick and Josh are two of my favorite writers and they continue to put out great content.

11) Best Media Coverage: Derrick Goold
12) Best Rookie Cardinal Blog: Cardinals Farm

This was a very difficult one as so many great new bloggers have started up this year, and love the new perspectives and enthusiasm.  John’s writing at Cardinals Farm covers a very important area that is not well represented – the minor leagues.   Like Daniel does for the Cardinals, John tries to do for the entire farm system.  Truly a labor of love and I appreciate what it takes to do that.

13) Post of the Year: Matt Holliday: One Of The Most Cost Effective Players In Baseball (stlcupofjoe’s Sports Page)
14) Best UCB Project: Top 7 Prospects

I’m a big fan of the kids down in the minor leagues and this gives us a great chance to share our observations and expectations.

15) Best UCB Podcast: Conversations With C70

How can you not vote for a podcast that starts out with “You are listening to my daddy’s show” ?

16) Best UCB Twitterer; Dennis Lawson @gr33nazn

There are so many great members of the Cardinals Twitter Nation, but Dennis stands out with a rare combination of humor, insight and darn impressive baseball IQ.  Rarely does a day go by that I don’t get a chuckle or two from something Dennis says.

That brings my ballot to a close.   Make sure and check out other ballots over at the UCB Project page.

Posted in 2012 Season | 1 Comment

The 1967 Cardinals Were Largely Homegrown Too


Much has been made of the homegrown talent that the Cardinals are sending into the World Series in 2013, for good reason.  In the era of free agency, teams like the 2013 Cardinals are somewhat of the exception, although that trend may be changing as the economics of the game may force teams to be more selective with future free agent signings.  How this team was put together was no accident and it bares a striking resemblance to another great team in Cardinals history, one that went on to beat the Red Sox.  Coincidence ?  I don’t think so.

moDuring a session with the United Cardinal Bloggers earlier this year, General Manager, John Mozeliak, was asked a question about his predecessors and their influences.  He explained that he had received a lot of advice from Bing Devine, who ran the organization from 1957 until an untimely dismissal in 1964 and then again from late 1967 to 1978.  All of a sudden, everything the Cardinals were doing made perfect sense.  While he would not return until after the Cardinals defeated the Red Sox in 1967, Bing Devine’s fingerprints were will all over the new World Champions, and in a sense can also be found on the team today.  Like the current roster of Redbirds, the 1967 St. Louis Cardinals were largely homegrown too.

Let’s take a look.

Starting Position Players

1967 2013
Pos Player How Acquired Player How Acquired
1B Orlando Cepeda Trade (Giants) Matt Adams Drafted
2B Julian Javier Trade (Pirates) Matt Carpenter Drafted
SS Dal Maxvill Drafted Pete Kozma Drafted
3B Mike Shannon Drafted David Freese Minor league trade
LF Lou Brock Trade (Cubs) Matt Holliday Trade (As)
CF Curt Flood Trade (Reds) Jon Jay Drafted
RF Roger Maris Trade (Yankees) Carlos Beltran Free Agent
C Tim McCarver Drafted Yadier Molina Drafted

Even though Julian Javier and Curt Flood were acquired in a trade, they had a total of 8 games at the Major League level between them, and those were all by Curt Flood.   These two were closer to the minor league deal that brought David Freese to the Cardinals than Lou Brock, who had some time in the big leagues with the Cubs. With a bit of creative license, that brings the 67 squad to five starters that were either drafted or brought over as minor leaguers to six on the current team.

cepeda

Orlando Cepeda – 1967 NL MVP

Looking at the starters, position by position, brings up some other interesting comparisons especially if you swap Matt Adams for Allen Craig.  Both Cepeda and Craig hit for average, gap power and had the ability to get a key hit.  Cepeda won the NL MVP award and Craig was in the discussion until his injury in September ended his season.

Even scarier is the left side of the infield where Dal Maxvill (.227 / .297 / .279, 1 home run and 41 RBIs) is Pete Kozma (.217 / .257 / .273, 1 home run and 35 RBIs)  and Mike Shannon (.245 / .302 / .369, 12 home runs, 75 RBIs)  is David Freese (.264 / .340 / .381., 9 home runs, 60 RBIs).

While you would never compare their production on first glance, Matt Holliday and Lou Brock are more alike than you might think.  Sure, Brock was a gifted speedster terrorizing the opposing battery once he reached base.  What has been forgotten is that early in his career, Brock hit for some serious power.  If he had hit third in the Cardinals batting order, his overall production would have looked more like Orlando Cepeda’s, and not that far off that of Matt Holliday in 2013.

The biggest similarity are from the two veterans, Carlos Beltran and Roger Maris.   While they were/are past their primes, both could cover some ground and make great plays when the game was on the line.  And both had cannons from right field.  Maris also had a tremendous Word Series in 1967, leading the team with 7 RBIs and trailing just Lou Brock with a .385 batting average.  Maris could have been the series MVP, had Bob Gibson not been as dominating as he was.

Starting Pitchers

1967 2013
Pos Player How Acquired Player How Acquired
SP Bob Gibson Drafted Adam Wainwright Minor league trade
SP Dick Hughes Drafted Michael Wacha Drafted
SP Nelson Briles Drafted Joe Kelly Drafted
SP Steve Carlton Drafted Lance Lynn Drafted

Here is where we really see the similarity in approach between Bing Devine and John Mozeliak – develop starting pitching and then surround them with key acquisitions, as needed.  In both cases, the GMs get great marks in executing to that plan, with a slight nod to Mozeliak as we see an even more impressive execution in the bullpen.

While nobody would compare the styles of Bob Gibson and Adam Wainwright, Ray Washburn is actually pretty close, Wainwright has become just as much as leader of this current rotation as Gibson was in his era.  Both could be counted on to take the ball in must win games and give their respective teams a chance to win.  And they are both winners.  Adam Wainwright is what I believe Ray Washburn could have been, had he not been injured early in his career.

Dick Hughes

We’ve talked about the eerie parallel between Joe Kelly and Nelson Briles before, but things get interesting when you compare Dick Hughes and Michael Wacha.  Both are rookies, although Dick Hughes had a long minor league career before breaking into the big leagues.  Hughes slider was one of the nastiest in the game and a big part of his success, just as the change-up is for Wacha.  Both make a very good fastball even better.  The big difference is the innings load as Wacha’s has been very carefully managed and Hughes was not.  As a result, Hughes was a bit fatigued in the World Series and the Red Sox bats got to him in both of his starts, and a big reason why the series went a full seven games.

Bullpen

1967 2013
Pos Player How Acquired Player How Acquired
CL Joe Hoerner Trade (Astros) Trevor Rosenthal Drafted
RP Ron Willis Drafted Carlos Martinez Drafted
RP Jack Lamabe Trade (Mets) Seth Maness Drafted
RP Hal Woodshick Trade (Astros) Kevin Siegrist Drafted
RP Al Jackson Trade (Mets) Edward Mujica Trade (Marlins)
RP Larry Jaster Drafted Randy Choate Free Agent
RP Ray Washburn Drafted Shelby Miller Drafted
John Axford Trade (Brewers)

This is where the similarities basically end.  Other than a good number of homegrown pitchers in the 67 bullpen, there is little in common between the two bullpens, except maybe Seth Maness and Joe Hoerner – both were deceptive, threw strikes and just didn’t give up a lot of hard hit balls.  Ron Willis was a hard throwing side armer, but there were no relievers that threw anywhere near as hard as the kids on the current roster.  One thing that has been a bit overlooked in recent years was how young the 1967 pitching staff was – Ron Willis (23), Nelson Briles (23), Larry Jaster (23), Steve Carlton (22).  That is three of your five starters and go to right hander out of the bullpen.  Dick Hughes was the anomaly as a 29 year old rookie.

The Bench

1967 2013
Pos Player How Acquired Player How Acquired
Bobby Tolan Drafted Allen Craig Drafted
Ed Spiezio Drafted Tony Cruz Drafted
Phil Gagliano Drafted Shane Robinson Drafted
Alex Johnson Trade (Phillies) Adron Chambers* Drafted
Eddie Broussard Trade (Mets) Daniel Descalso Drafted
Dave Ricketts Drafted Kolten Wong* Drafted
John Romano Trade (White Sox)
* one of these two players will be left off the World Series roster to make room for Allen Craig.
Alex Johnson

Alex Johnson

Neither of these benches are going to scare the opposing pitchers late in the game, but the number of players that were developed in the Cardinals farm system is very close.   Phil Gagliano was the Daniel Descalso of that era, a scrappy ballplayer that could come up with an unexpected bit hit as well as play just about any infield or outfield position.   Even scarier is the comparison between Alex Johnson and Adron Chambers.  Other than Johnson’s questionable work ethic, which is why did didn’t play in the World Series, both players were built more like football players and could flat out fly on the bases.  Unfortunately, unless placed there in a pinch running situation, neither of them could figure out how to get on base.  Johnson would eventually figure things out and become a very good player, as would Bobby Tolan, but not until traded to the Cincinnati Reds.  That suggests perhaps a bit more patience should be shown with Adron Chambers.

Note: of course, Adron Chambers would be left off the World Series roster, adding to the Alex Johnson comparison.

The ’67 Cardinals carried three catchers, so Dave Ricketts did at least get a few at bats in the World Series.  With only Tony Cruz backing up Yadier Molina, his next at bat will likely come next March, in Spring Training.

As baseball fans, we will try to draw some conclusions based on a completely unrelated set of past events in the hopes of finding some optimism heading into a big series.  Taking a closer look at the 1967 team, there are more than a few similarities.   Lots of young and home grown talent and both teams play a balanced brand of baseball, perhaps a bit tilted in the direction of starting pitching.  It is certainly a more fitting comparison than the offensively minded team that got swept in 2004.   Or at least that is my story until the series actually gets under way.

Posted in 2013 Season, General History | Leave a comment

September 6-8 – Pittsburgh Pirates at St. Louis Cardinals


Birds Eye View Header

With 22 games (15 home, 7 away) remaining in the Cardinals regular season schedule, this table tells all that you need to know about the importance of this upcoming series.

Team Wins Losses Pct Games Back
Pittsburgh 81 58 .583 -
St. Louis 80 60 .571 1 1/2
Cincinnati 79 62 .560 3

Coming off a rough 2-5 road trip through Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, the Cardinals managed to hold on to second place thanks to similar struggles by both the Pirates and Reds.  Over the last 10 games, the standings have changed by only a single game.  All three teams are showing signs of weariness, but some last minute post-season deadline acquisitions by the Pirates have given them a much needed spark.

piratesFor the Pirates, they find themselves in first place in the National League Central in September and their next win will be an important milestone.  Their 4-3 victory over the Brewers last Tuesday finally ended their string of losing seasons that dates back to 1992.  But 81 wins is not a winning season, just yet.  I am sure that they would love to record that important victory in St. Louis, adding to the statement they made last week as they beat up the Cardinals in Pittsburgh.

cardinalsFor the Cardinals, this will be the last time they will face either of the NL Central contenders, and will only play one team with a winning record in the final six series (Washington in St. Louis).  A series win against the Pirates could be the catalyst the Cardinals need to shake off this recent funk and head into the playoffs with some momentum.  That has been the key to their success in the last two World Championship seasons (2006, 2011) and it will be again if Mike Matheny’s squad wants to duplicate some of that past October magic.

Probable Pitchers

Friday, September 6 – 7:15pm CDT

Joe Kelly (7-3, 2.82) vs AJ Burnett (7-9, 3.09)

In five previous starts against St. Louis, the Pirates veteran right hander has three wins and he will be seeking his fourth in the series opener.  The two teams have split his two no-decisions.  Burnett has been great in his last three starts, pitching at least seven innings, including his last start, which was against the Cardinals.  If you are looking for a word to describe his season, it would be steady.

For Kelly, that word would be stopper as he has become the only dependable starter over the last two months.  He is 2-1 against the Pirates in a pair of starts and three relief appearances.  For Kelly, the key will be to go deeper into his starts.  In only one has he pitched into the seventh inning.  Even with the expanded roster, the Cincinnati series tore up the bullpen, so a long outing in the series opener would be most welcome.

This one is too close to call, but should be a pitcher’s duel.  What a great matchup to start the series.

TV: Fox Sports Midwest, ROOT Sports

Saturday, September 7 – 6:15pm CDT

Adam Wainwright (15-9, 3.14) vs Jeff Locke (9-4, 3.22)

Since a 128 pitch complete game win against Atlanta, Adam Wainwright has struggled in his last 2 starts.  In 8 innings of work, he has allowed 15 runs and given up 3 home runs.  He is no longer commanding the strike zone, so his strikeouts have fallen off sharply as has his ability to escape jams.  While he makes no excuses for his performance, it could be the inning load or some recent pitch counts.  He will have to gut out one more start before an off day gives him some much needed rest.  The Cardinals are 2-1 in Wainwright’s 3 starts against the Pirates in 2013.

Jeff Locke has been the Pirates version of Lance Lynn, a deceptively good win/loss record that hides a late season collapse.  It had gotten so bad that Locke was optioned to the minor leagues after his last start on August 27, to give him a break.   This will be his first start since returning to the Pirates.  Locke has faced the Cardinals twice this year.  He was sensational in April, pitching 7 scoreless innings.  He has a 1-0 record  and the Pirates have won both of his starts.

Adam Wainwright will set the tone for this game.  If he is strong early and keeps a low pitch count, it could be a long night for the Pirates.   Recent history says otherwise, but this is Adam Wainwright, and we should never underestimate him in a big game.

TV: Fox Sports Midwest, ROOT Sports, MLB Network

Sunday, September 8 – 1:15pm CDT

Michael Wacha (2-0, 3.20) vs Charlie Morton (7-3, 3.00)

This will be Michael Wacha’s sixth start for the Cardinals in his first full professional season, and what a season it has been for the 22 year old.  He has also spent some time in the Cardinals bullpen plus 15 starts with the Cardinals AAA affiliate in Memphis.  The Cardinals have managed his inning load very closely, so he should be able to finish out the regular season and still have something left for post-season.  Wacha was sensational in his last start, throwing six scoreless innings in Cincinnati, allowing just 3 hits.

Charlie Morton returned to the Pirates in June, exactly one year after having Tommy John surgery.  After a few starts to stretch him out, Morton has been strong, and getting stronger with each successive start.   He has faced the Cardinals twice, both times in August, and did not receive a decision in either game.  The Cardinals won both of them.  If the inning load is getting to Morton, which is not uncommon in the first year following ligament replacement surgery, he is not showing it.  He has won his last 3 starts and shaved half of a run off his ERA.

This one is too close to call.   It may be decided by the two bullpens.

TV: Fox Sports Midwest, ROOT Sports

Who is Hot – Pittsburgh

Marlon Byrd, who was acquired at the post-season trade deadline, is hitting .444 with 5 doubles and 6 RBIs over the last week.  This is just what the Pirates needed to help make up for the loss of Starling Marte, who hasn’t played since mid-August.

Neil Walker is 10 for his last 26 with 2 doubles, a triple and a home run.   He also plays well against St. Louis, so the Cardinals pitchers need to be very careful with him.

Another newcomer, Justin Morneau, is hitting .462 (6-13) over the last week.   The power isn’t there yet, but he was on a tear prior to be traded to Pittsburgh.

Andrew McCutchen – is there a time when McCutchen is not on fire ?  While he was stone cold in the Cardinals last series in Pittsburgh, he was a one man wrecking crew in the last three games against the Brewers.  He went 5-12 with a double and 2 home runs.  If there is anything positive to take away from that as a Cardinals fan, both the homers were solo shots.

Who is Not – Pittsburgh

Pedro Alverez, who destroys Cardinals pitching, is struggling at the plate.  He is just 2 for his last 20, with 6 strikeouts, but both of those hits were doubles.

Russell Martin is 2-14, but both of those hits were home runs.

John Buck, another of the Pirates last minute additions, is just 2 for his last 20, but does have an RBI.

Who is Hot – St. Louis

Shane Robinson has 3 hits and 3 walks in his last 10 plate appearances for an On Base Percentage of .600.  Unfortunately, he was picked off in a key moment of the final loss in the Reds series, but if he continues to reach base, he will stay in the batting order.

MarpMatt Carpenter is hitting .391 this month with 3 doubles, a triple and 6 runs scored.   While the rest of the Cardinals look weary, Carpenter continues to produce at the top of the batting order.  He leads the National League in hits (170), doubles (46) and runs (106) scored.  His next double will set the Cardinals single season record.

David Freese, who has become part of an unusual platoon with Kolten Wong, is starting to heat up and making it harder for Mike Matheny to keep him on the bench.  He is 3 for his last 10 including a double, home run, 3 RBIs and 4 walks.

Joe Kelly continues recreating Nelson Briles heroic 1967 performance when he stepped in and helped deliver an NL Pennant and World Series Championship.  Since joining the rotation in early July, Kelly is 7-0 and the Cardinals have only lost one of his 10 starts.  His peripheral stats (walks, hits, strikeouts) don’t support his current performance, which makes it all the more fun to watch.  The key to Kelly’s success is his runner strand rate.  A much improved off speed pitch repertoire and less tipping has been a big part of that.

The Young Guns.  Other than Matt Carpenter, the young hurlers in the Cardinals bullpen are the other main reason why the team is still in contention for a playoff spot.  Seth Maness, Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist, Edward Mujica and more recently Tyler Lyons, Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez have been amazing to watch this summer.  Since he is pitching like a young man, we might as well add the veteran lefty, Randy Choate, into this group.   Most of them are rookies, but many have experienced postseason, either in St. Louis or in their minor league career.   The addition of John Axford gives a bit of insurance in case one of them struggles over the next few weeks.

Who is Not – St. Louis

Any starter not named Joe Kelly.  There is no way to sugar coat this, the rest of the rotation has been roughed up pretty badly.  Lance Lynn continues his curious second half meltdown, but Adam Wainwright and Shelby Miller’s decline is more concerning.  With an off day coming up after this series, the addition of Michael Wacha into the rotation as well as a possible spot start from Tyler Lyons or Carlos Martinez, we hope that both, if not all three, return to something more resembling their early season performance.

Yadier Molina is still among the leaders in batting average, but has been stone cold in September.  He has gone 3 for his last 18, all singles.  He has scored a run and driven in one.

Allen Craig is out with a foot injury, but was struggling at the time of his injury.

Carlos Beltran is 2-13 with a pair of singles and one RBI in the last week.

Matt Adams is 2-11 in September, but those two hits were historic, coming in the 14th and 16th inning of a thrilling extra inning win in Cincinnati.  With Allen Craig out with a foot injury, Adams playing time will increase.

Since these are the main run producers in the Cardinals batting order, it is no surprise that the team as a whole is struggling.

Kolten Wong has just one hit in 9 at bats in September, an infield single.  Wong has had a slow start to his major league career, but when he does get on base, he doesn’t stay on first for very long.

Jon Jay .063 / .111 / .063 so far this month with just one hit in 9 at-bats.  As a result, Shane Robinson is starting to play against left handed pitching in a platoon.   If Jay’s struggles continue, Robinson might start getting a few starts against righties as well.

Tony Cruz, Ryan Jackson, Adron Chambers. Brock Peterson and Rob Johnson are all 0 for September, in limited action.   Audry Perez was called up as additional catcher depth, but has yet to get into a game.

Key Injuries – Pittsburgh

Jason Grilli (rhp) has been out since late July with a strained forearm.  He has been activated after a short rehab assignment in the minor leagues, but is not expected to see much action right away. Mark Melancon will continue as the closer as Grilli works his way back into regular duty.

Wandy Rodriguez (lhp)  – has just started his minor league rehab and is expected to be back before the end of the regular season.

Starling Marte (of) is out with a hand injury.  He has still not started throwing or swinging the bat and it is unlikely that he will return during this series.

Michael McKenry (c) – out for the season recovering from knee surgery

James McDonald (rhp) is on the 60 day and has begun a rehab throwing program, but is not expected to return to the Pirates this year.

Jeff Karstens (rhp) and Phil Irwin (rhp) are out for the season.

Key Injuries – St. Louis

Allen Craig (1b) – Sprained foot.  Early medical reports are that Craig’s ankle is not broken, but rather a sprain of his foot. There is no time table on his return to the lineup.   While Craig has been struggling of late, his production with runners in scoring position is still outstanding.   Allen Craig currently has 97 RBIs.

Jake Westbrook (rhp) – lower back strain.  He has just been activated and is available for this series, but his role remains undefined.

John Gast (lhp) – season ending surgery to repair torn shoulder muscle.

Jaime Garcia (lhp) is out for the season with shoulder surgery.  He has recently started throwing.

Chris Carpenter (rhp) is out for the season with the season with nerve irritation to his pitching shoulder.  His rehab activities were shut down in July.

Jason Motte (rhp) is out for the season with Tommy John surgery.

Rafael Furcal (ss) is out for the season with Tommy John surgery.

Looking ahead

Of  the three teams competing for the NL Central title, the Cardinals have the easiest schedule on paper.  In addition to be heavily loaded with home games (15-7), they will face only one team with a winning record.   Their remaining schedule is

Sep 10-12 Milwaukee (60-79)
Sep 13-15 Seattle (63-77)
Sep 16-19 At Colorado (66-75)
Sep 20-22 At Milwaukee (60-79)
Sep 23-25 Washington (71-68)
Sep 27-29 Chicago (59-80)

The Cardinals also have two off days, September 9 and 26.

The Pirates remaining 20 games are a bit more evenly split between home and away.  They will also play 9 of those games against a team in a playoff race, Texas (3) and Cincinnati (6) as well as ending their season on the road.  Their remaining schedule is

Sep 9-11 at Texas (80-59)
Sep 12-15 Chicago (59-80)
Sep 16-17 San Diego (62-77)
Sep 20-22 Cincinnati (79-62)
Sep 23-25 at Chicago (59-80)
Sep 27-29 at Cincinnati (79-62)

The Pirates have just one off day, September 26.

For completeness, here is the Reds remaining schedule, which looks a lot like the Pirates.

Sep 6-8 Los Angeles (83-56)
Sep 9-11 Chicago (59-80)
Sep 13-15 At Milwaukee (60-79)
Sep 16-18 At Houston (47-93)
Sep 20-22 At Pittsburgh (81-58)
Sep 23-25 New York Mets (63-75)
Sep 27-29 Pirates (81-58)

The Reds have three off days, September 12, 19 and 26.

Three games currently separate the Reds, Pirates and Cardinals.  In what has already been an exciting season for fans of all three teams, the best may be yet to come.

This series preview has been written by Bob Netherton, from the mostly historical blog On the Outside Corner,  You can also find Bob on Twitter during game time at @CardinalTales.

We hope that you have been enjoying these Cardinals series previews.  If you are not already receiving these by email, please see the Bird’s Eye View Registration.

Posted in 2013 Season, Bird's Eye View | Leave a comment

Good Luck, Memphis Redbirds


In just over an hour from now, the Memphis Redbirds will play the Oklahoma City Red Hawks in the final game of the regular season.  If Memphis wins, they will be the champions of the American North division of the Pacific Coast League.  They will play the very same Red Hawks in a best of five series, starting on Wednesday.

6_rockey_redbirdIt is a bit too early to put together a report card on this season, but with all that has happened to the Redbirds roster this season, it is amazing that they are in contention and have a chance to make the playoffs.  Sure, you can point at a weak division as all four team have records under .500.  That has a lot to do with the strength of the American South where all four teams will finish .500 or better.  For Memphis, it might mean more about the success of the St. Louis Cardinals and maybe some hidden talent down in Springfield.

When we first saw the open day roster for the Memphis Redbirds, we knew it was a strong one. Their early play proved that our optimism was well placed.   The rotation alone was eye-popping: Seth Maness, Michael Wacha, John Gast, Tyler Lyons and after an extended spring training, Carlos Martinez.  None of them are on the Memphis roster now.  Similar turmoil has happened in the bullpen as well.  Let’s take a look.

Starting Pitchers
Opening Day Record Current Roster Record
Seth Maness 2-2, 4.23 Boone Whiting 5-5, 4.09
John Gast 3-1, 1.16 Scott McGregor 6-10, 4.83
Michael Wacha 5-3, 2.65 Richard Castillo  1-2, 1.93
Tyler Lyons 7-2, 3.32 Eric Fornataro  1-4, 6.61
Nick Additon 9-7, 4.10 No fifth starter

That’s right. Four of the five starters are now in St. Louis, or hiding out in Springfield so that they can be quickly recalled as soon as their season ends. Nick Additon has had a very good year, but is now on the disabled list and unavailable.  The current Memphis Redbirds starting rotation consists of three pitchers who started the season in AA, a reliever that has been struggling with injuries, and an open spot that will be some combination of a bullpen game started by Nick Greenwood or Keith Butler.

Bullpen
Opening Day Record Current Roster Record
Victor Marte 2-3, 4.94 Keith Butler 3-2, 3.62
Eric Fornataro 1-4, 6.61 open roster spot
Michael Blazek 1-2, 2.77 Kevin Thomas 0-1. 10.80
Nick Greenwood 2-8, 5.63 Nick Greenwood 2-8, 5.63
Barret Browning 1-2, 4.58 Lee Stoppleman 1-0, 0.00
Maikel Cleto 2-3, 6.92 Jose Almarante 0-0, 0.00
Jorge Rondon 3-5, 3.06 Jorge Rondon 3-5, 3.06
Sam Freeman 7-2, 2.97 Deryk Hooker 0-0, 5.68

It is important to remember that the bullpen also included the final days of both Mitchell Boggs and Marc Rzepczynski in the Cardinals organization. Of the two, Rzepczynski turned it around and was pitching effectively up to the time when he was traded. But Victor Marte totally lost whatever mojo he had and is now on the disabled list.  The continuing saga of Maikel Cleto finally came to an end, but not before the middle part of the schedule was blown apart.

Because Memphis had been playing with such a short roster, Kevin Thomas and Deryk Hooker were sent up to bolster the bullpen.  When it became apparent that Springfield would not win the second half of their division, two more arms were sent: Lee Stoppleman and Jose Almarante.  Both of these relievers have been impressive, but both started the season in A ball.

Barret Browning and Eduardo Sanchez are both gone, Sanchez being recently removed from the Cubs 40 man roster.  Eric Fornataro has been plagued by injuries and was recently inserted into the rotation because there were no other options.

There is no other way to describe 2013 than to say it was a tumultuous season for the bullpen.

The position players were not impacted quite as badly, but the two best players are no longer available – Kolten Wong is on the active roster in St. Louis and Oscar Taveras had a season ending injury.

Position Players
Opening Day Record Current Roster Record
Brock Peterson .294, 25 HR, 86 RBI Brock Peterson .294, 25 HR, 86 RBI
Kolten Wong .303, 10 HR, 45 RBI Ryan Jackson .278, 3 HR, 34 RBI
Vance Albitz .266, 1 HR, 9 RBI Vance Albitz .266, 1 HR, 9 RBI
Greg Garcia .271, 3 HR, 34 RBI Greg Garcia .271, 3 HR, 34 RBI
Jermaine Curtis .257. 5 HR, 49 RBI Jermaine Curtis .257. 5 HR, 49 RBI
JR Towles .237, 5 HR, 14 RBI Travis Tartamella .246, 3 HR, 18 RBI
Rob Johnson .236, 7 HR, 32 RBI Audry Perez .207, 0 HR, 7 RBI
Jamie Romak .242, 22 HR, 74 RBI Jamie Romak .242, 22 HR, 74 RBI
Justin Christian .273, 3 HR, 29 RBI Justian Christian .273, 3 HR, 29 RBI
Adron Chambers .252, 8 HR, 43 RBI James Ramsey .000
Chad Huffman .282, 13 HR, 55 RBI Chad Huffman .282, 13 HR, 55 RBI
Oscar Taveras .306, 5 HR, 32 RBI Mike O’Neill .296, 0 HR, 3 RBI
Chris Swauger .212, 2 HR, 12 RBI

The infield has stayed largely in tact, with Vance Albitz starting the year in Memphis and Ryan Jackson in St. Louis.  Brock Peterson spent a few days in St. Louis, as did Jermaine Curtis.  The big loss came in mid August when Kolten Wong was called up to St. Louis.

The outfield has had a nearly complete makeover as Tommy Pham took over center field when Oscar Taveras was initially injured.   The biggest blows to the Memphis offense happened when both Pham and Taveras had season ending surgeries.  Mike O’Neill was called up from Springfield and has played very well.  James Ramsey was a late minute addition to the roster when Adron Chambers got his annual September call up.  Adding to the outfield woes was a long disabled list stay by Justin Christian.

It is easy to forget that Memphis was running away with the American North early in the season, on the strength of that starting rotation.   John Gast did not allow an earned run in the first month of the season and both Seth Maness and Tyler Lyons were keeping pace.  The addition of Carlos Martinez made it almost unfair to the opposing teams.  By the end of May, all four of these plus Michael Wacha were in St. Louis.  That’s also when the bullpen drama began.   The result was a long and often frustrating season and a sub .500 record heading into the final game.  All of that can be forgotten with a win and another divisional title in the history of the Cardinals AAA Affiliate.

Don’t look too closely at the final record, regardless of how this season ends.   When your AA team can keep pace with most other organization’s AAA squads, you have a very deep and impressive farm system.  We have seen that play out this year in Memphis, and it is been fun to watch.   I am not ready for that to come to an end, so I really would like to see Memphis win today and give the Red Hawks a tough time in the first round of the playoffs.

Posted in 2012 Season | Leave a comment

Closing the Book on the John Axford Trade


It is really too early to do that, but at least we know the name of the “Player to be Named Later.”  It is Michael Blazek.  To some, that might seem too high a price to pay for a guy on the same career trajectory as Fernando Salas.  I disagree.

blazek

In a discussion with members of the United Cardinal Bloggers earlier this year, Cards General Manager, John Mozeliak, talked about how he had gotten some advice from former GM, Bing Devine.  One of Devine’s rules was that you had to trade away good talent to receive good talent.  More than the A-ha! of a lopsided trade, Devine wanted to ensure that he would be able to trade with that team or GM again in the future, should the need arise.  That included within the league or later, in the division.   Of course, one of his biggest trades would turn out to be one of those gotcha deals, but Ernie Broglio’s struggles were not thought to be due to a career ending injury at that time.

There is no question that the Cardinals gave the Brewers some seriously good talent in Michael Blazek.  It has been fun watching him make the transition between starter that had hit a ceiling to reliever that broke through that, leaving us all to wonder what his new ceiling might be.   There is also no question that we will miss seeing Blazek throw that high heat late in games, but for the baseball fan this is like breeding dogs – you just can’t keep all of the puppies.

Assuming that there are no catastrophic injuries, and making a couple of guesses about what the Cardinals will do over the winter, next year’s pitching squad looks something like this.

Starters: Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha, Joe Kelly

Starter candidates: Tyler Lyons, Carlos Martinez, John Gast, Seth Maness, Jaime Garcia

Starters not brought back: Jake Westbrook

Bullpen: Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist, Randy Choate, Seth Maness, Jason Motte, John Axford

Bullpen candidates: Sam Freeman, Keith Butler

Relievers not brought back: Fernando Salas, Victor Marte, Jorge Rondon, Edward Mujica

Where does Michael Blazek fit into that list ?  He doesn’t.    Before you put Michael Blazek ahead of Keith Butler on the depth chart, take another look.   Both pitchers will be 25 years old next year.   Blazek was drafted out of high school and progressed methodically through the farm system.  Butler was drafted two years later and shot up through the farm system, jumping low A to high A in 2011.

Blazek was a starter that made a transition to the bullpen after hitting a ceiling in AA. He moved to the bullpen in 2012 and restarted his development with a good season.  His breakthrough came in 2013.  By comparison, Butler has had success at each level where he has pitched.  He has always pitched in the late innings, collecting 62 saves over his five professional season.  The only time he has had an ERA over 3 was this season in Memphis, as he bounced between there, Springfield and St. Louis.  The only reason that he began the 2013 season in Springfield is that Memphis was already full and had a closer (Marte).   In 13 appearances with Springfield, he collected 7 saves with an ERA of 0.66.

As impressive as Blazek as been, he would be 17th or so on the pitching depth list with only 12 spots available, and that’s if they don’t resign Edward Mujica.

But that’s not the only consideration here.  There is some fine young pitching talent that will soon be pushing their way onto this list, not to start the 2014 season, but perhaps not long after.

Lee Stoppleman – currently in Memphis, promoted to help Memphis get into the playoffs and carry them as far as he can.  Stoppleman is another impressive left hander.  He is tall like Kevin Siegrist, but is more of a slinger.  As a result he doesn’t have as much velocity, but is deceptive in his delivery which makes it seem as if he is throwing harder than he is.  Stoppleman has a good assortment of breaking pitches and can throw them all for strikes.  He was drafted in 2012 and has already earned a win in AAA – yeah, he’s been pretty impressive.

Deryk Hooker is another Michael Blazek type project.   He was also a starter that hit his ceiling at AA.  He moved to the bullpen this year and turned in numbers that are quite close to Blazek’s first year as a reliever.  He doesn’t throw as hard as Blazek, but has a similar arsenal of pitches.

Eric Fornataro would have been the first pitcher expected to be called up in 2013, if he didn’t make the club out of spring training.  He almost did the year before.  Fornataro is another Mitchell Boggs type, even with the exaggerated closed stance in the set position.  He was the setup man for Keith Butler in Springfield’s Texas League Championship team, but injuries and control problems have made 2013 something of a lost season – again like Mitchell Boggs.   Fornataro would be behind Blazek in the depth chart, but a return to 2011 form would change all that rather quickly.

Seth Blair is one of the two great enigmas in the Cardinals farm system – the other being Tyrell Jenkins.  Blair has an explosive fastball, and when he is on, can be overpowering.  But he has been very inconsistent and tends to have some big blow up innings.   Injuries have played a big part in this, but his arm is just too good to pass up.  I would not be surprised if he became the 2014 starter turned reliever project for Bryan Eversgerd next year in Memphis, and we see him turn into a top tier talent.

Jose Almarante is a hard throwing right hander that has sort of come out of nowhere this year.   That’s not entirely true, but his early professional career did not suggest anything like what we have seen recently.  Almarante was one of those called up to AA when the Cardinals started stealing pitchers from Memphis.  Unlike some of the others who struggled, Almarante turned in a career year, earning a ride to Memphis to finish the 2013 season.   He is one to keep an eye on next year or the year after.   Almarante will be 25 next year.

Tyrell Jenkins – the other enigma.  Injuries have slowed the development of this exciting right hander, but the depth of the Cardinals pitching has allowed the team to go slowly with him.  Their patience may pay off big time if he can ever stay healthy.   Before an injury cut short his 2013 season, he was lighting it up in the Midwest League.  Electric arm does not do Jenkins justice in the few times I have seen him pitch.

Jordan Swagerty – perhaps the best of the young pitchers is someone that we’ve sort of forgotten about as he lost a year with Tommy John surgery in 2012.  Swagerty was on a fast path when the injury hit, and is expected to return to that next year.

A bit farther out are Danny Miranda and Zach Russell.  Both of them have made the jump to AA and pitched well in their short time there.   Boone Whiting is also an intriguing young right handed starter that could make the move to the big league bullpen next year,  as Seth Maness did in in 2013.

There are two important things to remember when thinking about pitchers in the minor leagues

1. There ain’t no such thing as a can’t miss pitching prospect

2. There is no such thing as too much pitching

Even when you take those two pieces of wisdom into consideration, the Cardinals have more pitching than available places to put them, and more on the way.   When evaluating the Michael Blazek for John Axford deal over the coming months, perhaps years, make sure and do in the context of all this talent.  There is little question that Michael Blazek has impressive talent and all of the tools to have a long and successful major league career.   The question is where does he fit within the abundance of pitching talent in St. Louis and is that more valuable than adding some veteran insurance to a bullpen that has been spectacular at times, but also quite vulnerable.   Before playing the Luke Gregerson “one that got away” card, remember that the Cardinals have won one World Series Championships, made two more post-season trips and perhaps one more this year since that deal.

Posted in 2013 Season | 7 Comments